existing system overview
State Capitol and four axial streets, following the compass
points, which divided the city into four quadrants or
wards. The heart of each ward was a public square (Moore,
Nash, Caswell, and Burke). Four lots were left open at
the corners of the rectangular plan for “future parks, for
children, flowers, trees and fountains.” Of the original city
plan, only one-half of the original 400 acres was allocated
for development, and nearly 40 acres or 20% of the this
developed land was reserved as open space.
The existing trees were spared on the original five
squares. Perhaps a decision of necessity, it nevertheless
made a powerful statement, which was to become the
foundation of Raleigh’s heritage of sensitivity to open
The Christmas Plan, parks and all, served Raleigh well
for nearly 50 years before the city began to grapple with
new growth brought by railway service in 1840. The
city pushed beyond the original boundaries during this
decade and development, and convenience claimed two of
the original squares. Caswell Square became the site for a
school for the deaf, and Burke Square became the grounds
of a new Governor’s Mansion.
The vision for parkland never vanished; however, in the
1860’s it resurfaced. Oakwood was designed as a Park
Cemetery, having a dual function of a memorial park for
the deceased and strolling and carriage grounds for the
living. This cemetery became Raleigh’s first experiment
with a multi-use, privately funded recreational and open
The Victorian Era touched Raleigh in both mood and
fashion. The theory of “green relief ” from urban chaos
(hardly applicable by comparison to northeastern cities),
promulgated by Frederick Law Olmstead, designer of
Central Park in New York and the Boston parks system,
encouraged citizens to donate land and finance the
development of pleasure grounds or natural retreats.
Richard Stanhope Pullen responded with a gift of 69 acres
in 1887 for an accessible pastoral retreat – a major public
park. At the time the land was on the outskirts of the
City and meant to be used as a get-away from bustling
Victorian life in the downtown.
At the turn-of-the-century nationwide influences stamped
Raleigh’s budding park enthusiasm, and its urban form,
with visionary ideas. The Columbian Exposition of 1893
inspired the nation with the crusade that cities can be
“beautiful and noble manifestations of civilization.”
The aesthetic renaissance found specific expression in
the landscaped boulevards of Glenwood and New Bern
Avenues. Subtly, a shift in park philosophy simultaneously
gained popularity. “Reform Parks” beckoned the entire
citizenry to recreational opportunities, not solely pastoral
retreats, and the notion of a system of parks, rather than
individual parks, began to gain favor.
Parks also became an amenity of fine residential
neighborhoods developed for an emerging middle class
whose homes were linked to downtown by trolley service.
The transportation service carried citizens to “street
railway” owned parks at the edge of town. Bloomsbury
Park, near Lassiter Mill, Brookside Park north of
Oakwood, and Pullen Park fit this category of open space.
The new residential subdivision called Cameron Park set
a model tone by arranging streets around natural drainage
ways, leaving the creeks as neighborhood open space.
Christmas’s 1792 plan for Raleigh which included five public squares
centered in a grid of streets.